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Franken Makes Mental-Health Care a Priority

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Franken is already sponsoring two bills related to mental-health care this Congress.

According to the summary, the bill would set up a grant program for schools that partner with organizations in their communities to expand students’ access to mental-health resources, with requirements for reporting data. The grants would also support training programs in schools to help staff, families and other community members spot signs of mental-health issues and refer students to services.

The measure would authorize $200 million in grants each year over a five-year period, the summary said, with up to $1 million available for eligible schools each grant year based on student population size.

In an interview earlier in January, Napolitano said one challenge for moving forward on mental-health legislation is the potential for proposals to get bogged down in an effort to find funding. But Franken expressed optimism that lawmakers may be able to overcome that issue.

“I think that it’s one of these things that we realize it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish not to invest in,” he said.

Democrats Max Baucus of Montana and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois are original co-sponsors of the Senate bill.

Reauthorization Measure

Also last week, Franken introduced legislation (S 162) to reauthorize for five years a 2004 law (PL 108-414) that established a grant program to support mental-health courts and other collaborative programs between the criminal-justice and mental-health systems. Franken said the current law is working, but he maintained that there are still “way too many” people in prison with mental-health conditions, many of whom he said could be better served by treatment programs.

His bill would continue support for crisis intervention teams as well as mental-health courts, which he said can help individuals avoid becoming repeat offenders and keep them out of prison.

“Basically, if someone’s arrested and the prosecutor and the defense attorney and the police and the judge and mental-health professionals agree that this person should be tried in mental-health court and not in the regular court, then he or she will be,” he said. “Instead of going to prison, they can be given treatment.”

Beyond the current programs, Franken’s bill would authorize funding for veterans treatment courts that serve veterans with mental-health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or substance addiction who are arrested, according to a summary. It also would give more control over eligibility to local officials and provide support for curricula development for police academies and orientations, among other provisions.

Franken introduced the measure on Jan. 28 with support from 18 original bipartisan co-sponsors. Florida Republican Rich Nugent, a former sheriff, introduced the House version (HR 401) on Jan. 23 with nine co-sponsors split between both parties.

“I don’t think this reauthorization is going to be hard at all,” Franken said.

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